Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles as the love-struck couple of Jesse and Celine here in this third installment of Richard Linklater’s “Before” series. Before we get into anything else, as expected, Hawke and Delpy continue to have astonishing chemistry together and are both very fine actors who deliver knockout performances here. In the previous two movies, they were still getting to know each other and playing a tantalizing and torturous game of romantic cat and mouse. In this movie, we learn that they have now been together for several years. Therefore, the courtship that was so slowly and intricately stitched together from the two previous movies, which took place during the course of two days spaced ten years apart, is finally over. Hawke and Delpy, unsurprisingly, assume the new roles of familiarity without any difficulty whatsoever.
Jesse and Celine are no longer the love struck twenty somethings they were when first we met them. They are not even the frustrated, restless thirty somethings they were when we last saw them. They are now both firmly entrenched in their forties, and instead of rambling about a romantic location such as the aforementioned Paris, or Vienna, this movie finds them mostly set in place at either their friend’s villa or a simple hotel room. Scenery wise, there is much less to chew on here, but emotionally, this movie packs more of a wallop than the previous two combined. Aside from Jesse’s son that lives back in the US that we learned about in the last movie, we learn they now have a pair of daughters that live with them in Paris. The friction between them for the most part revolves around Jesse’s desire for them to move back to America so he can be closer to his son that he feels guilty for leaving behind with his ex-wife. Such a move would force Celine to give up a dream job offer that she has in Europe and her fierce desire for independence. And so it goes.
They have, as said, grown very familiar with each other. These two characters don’t just finish each other sentences; they finish each other’s thoughts. The cat and mouse relationship from the previous movies is now replaced by the skillful emotional intrigue of two people who know all the right pressure points and secrets of each other and can use them as they see fit. This is an at times uncomfortable but realistic look at how real relationships work.
As they are strolling down an old pathway, Celine asks Jesse if he would still try to pick her up on a train if he just met her as they did on that train headed to Vienna twenty years prior. In such a way, the message of Midnight serves as a commentary on the first two movies. Instead of climbing up the mountain of love, Jesse and Celine are now seated at the top and looking down over the vastness of their lives. From here, they can see clearly the past, present, and far out into the many possible futures. From that position, one ponders many questions, especially regarding how you got there and where he or she should go next.
One of my favorite parts of each movie in the ‘Before’ series always occurs around the beginning of the film and involves Jesse bantering in a writerly sort of way about his future projects. Perhaps it’s the geeky writer in me, but I normally find his ideas to be humorously fascinating. In the first film it’s Jesse talking to Celine on the train about his ideas for a documentary TV show. In the second movie, Jesse discusses ideas about his next book at a speech he was giving in a small bookstore in Paris, and in this one, it is Jesse at his friend Patrick’s Greek villa where he and a group of well-read intellectuals debate the merits of his admittedly rather eccentric and esoteric story ideas. From listening to all three of his dissertations in these movies so far I could very well see Jesse as the author of a book or film in the vein of say ‘Cloud Atlas’ or something to that effect.
In a similar sense, Richard Linklater is perhaps the most reserved and literary minded writer/director of his generation of filmmakers. He burst onto the scene around the same time that Kevin Smith became famous for his smart potty-mouthed and pop culture reference filled comedies and Quentin Tarintino achieved his early prominence for blood soaked pop-culture reference filled films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Linklater isn’t as boisterous or as adept at name-dropping pieces of selected pop culture, as those two aforementioned writer/directors but what he has in spades is the kind of patience to build characters and relationships that are so rare to find in movies today. His camera shots lovingly linger on Celine and Jesse far longer than the current trade rule of no more than a few seconds per shot. He actually seems interested in what they have to say, and the conversation, as said in the previous two reviews, feel like actual conversations that people might actually have rather than condensed and overwhelmingly forced snippets of your standard Hollywood movie dialogue. It’s a refreshing callback to a time when movies were not so obsessed with throwing a bombardment of images at its audience, but instead was more concerned with just telling good stories.
The best description I’ve read for this series of movies is a quote that called it the “Up” series for love-struck Cinephiles. For those too lazy to Google that, the Up series is an ingenious series of documentary films that chronicle the lives of a couple of British citizens, returning to them every seven years with a new movie. The first one was entitled “7 Up” the next “14 up” and so on, with the last one being if I’m not mistaken “57 up”…. Now while I’m not normally prone to the wiles of romantic comedies enough to be considered all that love-struck, I am no doubt a Cinephile of the highest (or lowest) order, and so as a result I find these movies very addictive and satisfying. I hope that like the aforementioned series we will get more of Celine and Jesse in the decades to come. Watching this movie gave me the same feeling of warmth, compassion, and hopefulness that watching the original and its predecessor did, and that’s a feeling I’d be very welcome to revisit time and time again, or at the very least, once a decade or so.
Before Midnight gets a five out of five: EXCELLENT.